East African Standard
America’s renewed push against local drug lords has turned the spotlight on prominent Kenyans previously accused of links to the narcotics trade. A week after the Akasha brothers were arrested and flown to New York, drug investigators were reported to be looking afresh at the files of Kenyan big names cited in an American Embassy report made public six years ago. The report, which was handed to the then Internal security minister George Saitoti, not only triggered high-level investigations into the Akasha brothers who are now awaiting trial in the US, but also listed well known Kenyans who have since risen to powerful positions. They include Kiambu Governor William Kabogo, Mombasa governor Hassan Joho, Senator Mike Mbuvi Sonko, former Assistant Minister Harun Mwau, former Kamukunji MP Simon Mbugua and Othaya MP Mary Wambui.
ALSO READ: Man arrested in Mombasa while trying to smuggle out heroin All of them were named in Parliament by Prof Saitoti but denied the accusations and have always insisted the report had no basis. Sources told The Standard on Sunday that having wrapped up their investigations into the Akashas, the Drug Enforcement Authority was re-examining the reports on which the then US ambassador, Mr Michael Ranneberger, based his 2010 communication to the Kenya Government. Sources from the European Union who could not be quoted because of the sensitivity of the matter said they were also treating these Kenyans as persons of interest in the global war against drug trafficking.
At the same time, no less a person than President Uhuru Kenyatta declared end of the road for big drug dealers following the Akasha’s transatlantic flight to justice, hinting at more arrests. “Their days are over. We are not dealing with peddlers, we will deal with the big fish. We will deal with the drug barons decisively,” Uhuru said early last week. Flown out Two Akasha brothers – Baktash and Ibrahim – together with their Pakistan-based associate Gulam Hussein and Vijaygiri Goswami, an Indian resident in Kenya, were flown to New York to stand trial for the production and distribution of heroin and methamphetamine across Africa. They were arrested after an elaborate investigation by the Drug Enforcement Agency, and a sting operation in which Baktash introduced his accomplices to undercover agents while Ibrahim delivered heroin to them on behalf of what came to be known as the Akasha Organisation. When he was named in Ranneberger’s dossier in 2010, Mwau was an Assistant minister in the Kibaki Government, Sonko was Makadara MP, Kabogo was representative for Juja and Joho for Kisauni, Mombasa. Mary Wambui, now Othaya MP, was an activist for the ruling party Narc and was often associated with President Mwai Kibaki. Like them, the Akashas have been on a US watch list over suspected connections with the global narcotics trade. If investigators turn their attention on Joho and Kabogo together with others in the Saitoti list, it would touch off political shock waves because of their key positions in the rival Cord and Jubilee parties.
ALSO READ: Akasha sons face life in US jails if convicted Joho is Raila Odinga’s pointman in the Coast region and is influential in the party because of his wealth and political clout. Although his relations with President Kenyatta are lukewarm, Kabogo is one of the Jubilee heavyweights in Central Kenya, by force of his personality and wealth, and being governor of the President’s home county. Most of the people named in the report were subsequently investigated by a Kenyan Police and cleared for lack of evidence. They also protested the inclusion in the list, declared their innocence and accused the US government of mounting a witch-hunt. Mwau, Kabogo, Joho, Sonko, businessman Ali Punjani, Joho’s brother Abubakar and Mbugua were later interviewed by a special police probe chaired by Deputy Commissioner of Police at the time Alfred Ombaba. The police’s interim report dated February 1st, 2011 was later tabled in Parliament. In the police report, Mwau is said to have addressed all issues raised in the Ranneberger dossier, a copy of which he had in his possession at the time of the interview with the police. He denied drug trafficking claims and association with people mentioned in the dossier, including the Akashas. Dossier claims that his daughter was married to Kabogo were disapproved by the police report: “He has no daughter and therefore cannot possibly be father-in-law to William Kabogo. He has also never employed Kabogo as his driver.” Kabogo told police that the Ranneberger dossier was posted to him at parliament’s reception. The contents of the report damaged his character and were not true. “No evidence has so far been adduced connecting him to drug trafficking,” police report said.
ALSO READ: Drug baron’s reign of terror and tussle over vast wealth In his interview with the police probe team, Joho exonerated his family from “drug trafficking, murder, corruption, tax evasion, violence, intimidation and land grabbing.” He attributed the claims to a prominent rival businessman in Mombasa wanting to discredit his political prospects. “None of the witness interviewed has linked him to drug trafficking,” the report said. The police report said Sonko panicked when police sought him out over drug claims. He later met them, denied drug trafficking claims and admitted that he was in the “business of land frauds.” The police report did not make a specific finding on drug trafficking. Instead, it fingered him over failure to pay taxes: “He needs to be followed up by Kenya Revenue Authority.” Punjani also denied the charges and just like Joho, blamed a prominent Mombasa businessman for giving life to such rumours. He denied proprietorship of the businesses named in the American dossier. Just like Sonko, no specific finding was made on him by the police in regard to trafficking. Mbugua also denied the claims. On June 1, 2011, just six months after the list was presented to Parliament, Harun Mwau was hit by new sanctions.
President Barack Obama ordered sanctions on the businesses of seven individuals linked to the drugs trade, among them Mwau and one Naima Mohamed Nyakiniywa. “This report to the Congress, under section 804(a) of the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act, 21 U.S.C. 1901-1908 (the “Kingpin Act”), transmits my designations of the following seven foreign individuals as appropriate for sanctions under the Kingpin Act and reports my direction of sanctions against them under the Act,” the letter by Obama to Congress read. Others on the list were from Mexico, Afghanistan, Colombia and Kyrgyzstan. The Kingpin Act blocks all property and interests in property, subject to US jurisdiction, owned or controlled by significant foreign narcotics traffickers as identified by the President. ALSO READ: Why the Akashas are wanted in US for trial Interviewed by The Standard on Sunday last year, Mwau denied the drug-dealing accusations, argued that it was impossible for him to traffic drugs through Kenya and attributed his vast wealth to hard work. “The question as to why they would have my name on their list belongs to them. Ask them why they have not cleared me after all these years,” he said Mwau was alleged to have used his clearing and forwarding business and his network of inland container terminals as a holding ground once his narcotics consignments reached the country.
Adam Szubin, the then Director of the Office of Foreign Assets Control (Ofac) in the US Department of Treasury, told journalists at the time: “We view Mwau as among the more powerful and active narcotics traffickers in the region. It’s not a quick or short process. We built a case slowly and carefully to ensure that it is soundly built.” But a report later issued by the Kenya Police report cleared Mwau and many of the people named by the Americans. The police said securing sustainable evidence against them “proved elusive” during investigations by a special committee established to look into Ranneberger’s dossier. “It was quite unfortunate that even those who made the loudest noise had nothing to offer in terms of giving information of evidential value,” the police report said. Mr Joho is quoted in the police report as blaming the attempts to link him with the drugs trade to political and business rivals. The Police committee had been tasked with unearthing drug trafficking in Kenya, expose those behind the trade and gather sufficient evidence that could stand before a court of law. United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has cited East Africa as an attractive route for international drug cartels.It said: “A review of drug seizures from 1998 to date indicates an increase in the trafficking of heroin to eastern African countries from Pakistan, Thailand and India. Increased seizures of heroin with Nigerian connections bound for Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya through Ethiopia have been noted as well.” In April 2014, Kenya registered the largest drug seizure in African history. Heroin valued at Sh25 billion was intercepted off the coast of Mombasa and two months later the authorities seized an additional 341 kgs of heroin.